Jeramey Jannene
Plats and Parcels

Convention Center Expansion Paused

Market uncertainty will prevent necessary bond sale to finance Wisconsin Center expansion.

By - Mar 22nd, 2020 03:37 pm
Wisconsin Center expansion rendering. Rendering by Eppstein Uhen Architects and tvsdesign.

Wisconsin Center expansion rendering. Rendering by Eppstein Uhen Architects and tvsdesign.

The uncertainty on Wall Street resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing the Wisconsin Center District (WCD) to pause plans to build an up-to-$425-million expansion of Milwaukee’s convention center. The district had hoped to approve the financing plan in April, break ground in 2021 and open the expanded complex in 2023.

Under the plan, the Wisconsin Center exhibition hall would be expanded to 300,000 square feet, a 30,000-square-foot ballroom would be constructed atop the expanded complex and 24 meeting rooms would be added. A timeline from the Wisconsin Center District said the 17-member board would vote on the final deal and financing plan on April 2nd.

The district would fund the expansion, projected to cost no more than $425 million, using excess revenue from a 2.5 percent county-wide hotel room tax, 0.5 percent food and beverage sales tax and 3 percent rental car tax.

Board member Alderman Robert Bauman asked the project consulting team during a WCD meeting on March 6th if they had considered forecasting a recession or pandemic into the future revenue projections and was told that the estimates were conservative. But the one thing not projected in the estimates was if that pandemic hit before the bonds could be issued.

COVID-19 is impacting the district in three different ways. The turmoil in the financial markets makes it difficult to issue the debt, the spread of the disease will decimate the 2020 tax collections from the district’s taxes and the cancelation or postponement of multiple events could challenge the district’s operational budget.

“The most important thing is that we want the staff and everyone to stay safe and healthy,” said WCD Marty Brooks in an interview with Alex Zank. To that end, the district has not laid off any employees at this point.

The district, which has $375 million in debt, including that used to finance Fiserv Forum, had hoped to refinance $59 million in bonds as part of the expansion plan to create additional capacity. But those plans are also on hold.

Is a 2023 opening date off the table? “There’s just too many variables,” Brooks told Zank. The design team, consisting of Eppstein Uhen Architects and Georgia-based tvsdesign, could speed up work and get things back on track. Or the pandemic could last many months and postpone things indefinitely.

Want more information on the plan? You can view the consulting team’s design or financial slide decks on our website.


Current Building

River One Rises Over Harbor District

The signature building at Michels Corp.‘s River One development at the intersection of S. 1st St. and W. Becher St. now towers over the surrounding area.

The eight-story building, the first of five buildings planned for the site, will be home to Michels’ Milwaukee office. It’s located at the northwest corner of the six-acre site that was once home to Horny Goat Brewing.

Michels, which is headquartered in rural Brownsville just outside of Fond du Lac, will anchor the office building with its new civil infrastructure division. Many of the positions in the 250-employee division will be in engineering or other highly-technical fields. “People that, quite frankly, are easier to recruit in Milwaukee than other places,” said Michels’ Chief Legal Officer David Stegeman in September 2018. Firm vice president Tim Michels said in August 2018 that he hopes the firm will eventually employ 800 people at the site.

The company has more than 5,000 employees according to company officials. Michels’ website boasts that the firm has over 12,000 pieces of equipment and 40 locations.

Architecture firm RINKA is leading the complex’s design. Gilbane Building Co. is serving as the general contractor.

Read more



‘Attractive’ Facade Changes for Historic Tied House

The spread of COVID-19 has shut down much of the activity in Milwaukee, including that in taverns like the Tied House, which occupies a historic 1904 former Pabst Brewery Saloon building at 124 N. Water St. Likewise, the statewide restrictions on gatherings of more than ten people led to limited attendance at the Historic Third Ward Architectural Review Board, which met at its offices at noon on Wednesday, with a few members there in person, while others, including this observer, participated via telephone.

After a few formalities, including a roll call of the seven members (all present by one means or another) and the approval of the minutes of the previous meeting (held in November), the first order of business was to review proposed modifications to the Tied House facade.

John Vetter, the principal of Vetter Architects represented Alliance 37, an Illinois company that bought the building in December, 2017 for $1,158,100. His charge was to “make it more attractive physically and visually. … enliven the corner. …  create a visual connection,” with the street and interior of the tavern.

His solution: A fully openable window assembly of bronzed aluminum. During summer the windows would open to their full height of about 11 feet. They would be glazed in clear glass, rather than the existing tinted windows. Currently more than one-third of the original opening is closed with plywood panels above and below. Currently, “the blackened glass does not allow transparency to the interior of the building.” His plan would open them up to their historical size. … When closed, the windows will be much more in keeping with what the building was originally,” he said.

Read more from Michael Horne

National Ave. Affordable Housing Moves Forward

Developer Brandon Rule‘s planned apartment building for a city-owned site at S. 13th St. and W. National Ave. is moving forward. The building would include 89 apartments, 74 of which would be set aside at below-market rates for those making less than 60 percent of the area’s median income.

“It means a lot for me to develop in my backyard,” said Rule via phone to the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee on Tuesday morning. The developer grew up at S. 26th St. and W. National Ave.

The committee signed off on selling two parcels to create the development site, but not before debating the design of Rule’s earlier project a few blocks to the east and different iterations of the proposed Thirteen31 project.

“For me at least, and for the architects and construction team, this is part two of a project we did at 704 W. National Ave.,” said the developer.

Read more

Founders 3 Names a New Division President

Founders 3 announced today it has named industry veteran, Kevin Armstrong, to be the new President of Founders 3 Commercial Services, Inc.; the firm’s office, industrial and investment brokerage divisions. Armstrong was previously Managing Director of CBRE’s Wisconsin operations.

Armstrong brings more than 30 years of commercial real estate experience to Founders 3 and was named Commercial Realtor of the Year in 2018. As President, Armstrong will work closely with the firm’s partners, brokers and staff to serve clients and grow business by capitalizing on the group’s deep experience in this complex market segment.

“Founders 3’s local ownership and independence sets the company apart from its competitors,” Armstrong said. “I am excited to join such a talented and dedicated group of real estate professionals.”

Read the full press release

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